Mayo Clinic Minute: A hand surgeon's advice on knuckle cracking

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How to Know If Your Knuckle Is Broken

Three Parts:

A broken knuckle can be extremely painful. It can also complicate your life if you have a career that requires you to use your hands. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your knuckle is actually broken or if it’s simply bruised. While a severely broken knuckle usually requires medical attention, a bruise or even a minor fracture might be able to heal on its own. Learn how to identify a broken knuckle so you can seek out the care you need.


Assessing the Immediate Situation

  1. Experience a popping sensation.People who break knuckles often report feeling a popping or snapping sensation in their hand the moment the break occurs. The snapping feeling can be caused by the actual breaking of the bone or pieces of the bone popping out of their original place. If you feel this occur, it is a good idea to stop what you’re doing and examine your hand.
    • The popping sensation isn’t always present when a knuckle is broken. Whether or not you’ll experience a popping feeling depends on the severity of your fracture.
  2. Identify the cause of the injury.A broken knuckle is often referred to as a “boxer’s fracture” because it occurs most often when a person punches a hard surface. When your injury happened, were you punching a wall or some other immovable surface? Maybe you were involved in a fist fight. If you have been hitting something solid, there’s a good chance you may have broken your knuckle.
    • There are other possible ways to break your knuckle that are not as common. You can break your knuckle while falling down, working with machines or doing any activity that exposes your hand to trauma.
    • Some doctors now call a broken knuckle a “brawler’s fracture” instead of a “boxer’s fracture” because boxers prevent broken knuckles by wearing protective gear. You’re more likely to break a knuckle hitting something with your bare fist.
  3. Feel immediate pain.A broken knuckle will be accompanied with severe, immediate pain. Right when the injury occurs, you will experience a sharp pang in your hand which will be followed by an intense throbbing feeling. Depending on your body’s tolerance for pain, the feeling can be debilitating and force you to stop whatever you’re doing.
    • If your knuckle only has a minor fracture, the pain may not be as severe. However, you should still stop using your hand as you could further injure your knuckle.
  4. Take the temperature of your hand.The moment you break your knuckle, the blood will start flowing towards the area of the fracture causing your hand to get hot. Check the temperature in your injured hand and then your other hand. If your injured hand feels much warmer than the other one, your knuckle could be broken.

Examining your Knuckle Visually

  1. Check for swelling.If your knuckle is broken, it should start to swell after about ten minutes. The swelling will be centered around your broken knuckle and may spread out to the rest of your hand. The swelling from a broken knuckle may be severe. You may find it difficult to move your hand if it gets swollen enough.
    • When your knuckle starts to swell, you may experience a tingling or numb sensation as well.
    • Take aspirin, ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain medication to decrease the swelling and deal with the pain.
    • Doctors may not be able to work on your hand if it has swollen too large. Applying ice to the injury early can help alleviate swelling. Wrap an ice pack with a paper towel and apply it to your knuckle or use a bag of frozen vegetables. Keep the ice pack on for up to 20 minutes at a time and then give your skin a chance to return to normal temperature before applying the ice pack again.
  2. Look for bruising.A bruise from a broken knuckle will appear much faster than a normal bruise. As blood rushes into your injury, the area will begin to discolor within a matter of minutes. Bruising will also make your injury very tender. It will likely hurt to even touch a broken knuckle.
    • There are cases of bones breaking without any bruising present, but they are rare.
    • Keep your hand elevated to decrease bruising. Keeping your hand above your heart will allow the blood to flow away from the injury.
  3. Find a sunken knuckle.A surefire way to tell if you have a broken knuckle is to see if it has sunk beneath your other knuckles. If you can, curl your injured hand into a fist and look at your knuckles. They should stick out. If there is one knuckle that you can’t see, then that knuckle is definitely broken.
    • The fracture may affect the position or angulation of your knuckle, causing it to sink.
  4. Locate any areas where the skin is broken.If your bone is sticking through your skin, you have an open fracture and you will need surgery to repair it. Make sure to wash the entire area with antiseptic soap.It will be easy for any open wounds around your broken bone to become infected which will make the injury much more complicated to treat.
    • It may hurt to wash your tender knuckle, but it’s very important that you do.
    • Make sure to dry your wound completely as moisture makes it easier for bacteria to grow. You can also cover the wound with a clean dressing to prevent infection.
    • Remove any loose pieces of material from the injury. If there is an impaled object in your knuckle, leave it in place for the doctors to remove in the hospital.

Testing your Mobility

  1. Bend your finger.Try to bend your injured finger to check for dislocation or malrotation of your knuckle. If your knuckle is dislocated, you may not be able to bend it at all as the bone will have moved in a way that does not allow you to use your finger. If the bone has rotated, you might be able to bend the finger, but it will be pointed towards your thumb. Malrotation means that the bone has twisted in such a way that the finger will bend in a different direction than normal.
    • If your bone is dislocated or malrotated, you will need a doctor to reset it.
    • A malrotated or dislocated knuckle often takes longer to heal than a simple broken knuckle.
  2. Make a fist.If your knuckle is broken it will be very difficult for you to close your hand. You can test the severity of your injury by trying to make a fist. Your hand may have swollen too large or it may simply be too painful for you to move your fingers if your knuckle is broken. You may also be able to close all your fingers except for the one with the broken knuckle. If you can make a fist, and your knuckle is broken, your injured finger may not align properly with the rest of your fingers.
    • Don’t push yourself. If you try too hard to fight through the pain and make a fist, you could injure or dislocate your knuckle further.
  3. Grip something.A broken knuckle will drastically reduce your finger strength. Your brain can shut down the muscles around a severe injury to prevent further damage. If you find yourself unable to get a tight grip on anything, there’s a chance your brain is trying to protect your broken knuckle.
    • If you have a minor fracture of your knuckle, you may still be able to use most of your grip. If you suspect you might have a fracture though, take it easy. Gripping something too hard could cause the fracture to become more severe.
  4. Try out your wrist.Your knuckle is at the top of your metacarpal bone. The bottom of your metacarpal bone is connected to your carpus or wrist bone.Because the two bones are connected, a broken knuckle can affect the mobility of your wrist. Move your wrist from side to side and up and down. If you feel a sharp pain shoot through your hand, you most likely have a severe broken knuckle.
  5. Seek treatment.If you suspect that your knuckle is broken, then see a doctor or visit an emergency room as soon as possible to get treated. You will probably have to wear a splint or brace for a few weeks until the knuckle heals.Casts are not often necessary for breaks in the hand and fingers.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    I punched a wall full force and I got a little lump on my knuckle. After two days it is just a little swollen. My mobility is perfect, but when I move or touch my knuckle, it makes a grinding noise on the inside. Is it broken?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You could have a minor fracture. It might be wise to be careful with your knuckle so you don't further injure it. If it does get worse, you might want to see a doctor.
  • Question
    I punched a wall and my knuckle is bruised and swollen but when I press my knuckle on something it hurts. Should I see a doctor?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, you should see a doctor. And while you're at it, you may want to ask for a referral for anger management.
  • Question
    Is my knuckle broken if I get pains shooting up my finger to the tip?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It might be, sharp pains from a broken knuckle can shoot throughout your hand.
  • Question
    My finger is still in pain and still swollen. Should I go to see a doctor?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Absolutely, the continuing pain is a sign that it isn't healing properly, and only the doctor can assess why.
  • Question
    My knuckle was purple last night after hitting it, but now it's red. Is it broken?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Usually, your knuckle will start out being red but will turn purple later on. To me, it sounds like you had a bruise that is healing. If you're having other symptoms like a weakened grip or difficulty moving your hand, you should see a doctor.
  • Question
    If I felt a bad pain in my knuckle and I couldn't move my hand for many days. I still have trouble holding anything heavy with it after four weeks. Could my knuckle be broken?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It does sound very likely that you have a broken knuckle. You should go to a doctor to have it verified.
  • Question
    Should I go to the hospital for a dent in my hand after punching a brick wall?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes. If the there is any dent or pain, you should seek medical attention.
  • Question
    My knuckle is red and swollen after I hit a wall. When I straighten out my hand, the area has a white ring, and it goes in a little. Is it broken?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
  • Question
    My knuckle didn't swell that much but it is in immense pain after punching a brick wall. Should I see a doctor?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If the pain is too severe for you to handle, it might be wise to see a doctor. However, you can try taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help deal with the pain.
  • Question
    Can you heal a broken knuckle at home and will it heal okay?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It depends on how bad it is and if it is fractured and not broken. It should heal okay but it is probably better to consult with a doctor.
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  • To keep your knuckle in place, you should splint it to another finger.
  • Go to a doctor as soon as you can if you think your knuckle is broken. A doctor will be able to take an x-ray to confirm your suspicions.
  • Always wrap or bandage open wounds so no bacteria can get in.
  • If a wound is bleeding externally, wash with cold water.


  • Never try to work through a broken knuckle, you could turn a minor fracture into a severe break.
  • Avoid punching solid objects to prevent breaking your knuckles. If you spar or do martial arts, wear gear to protect your hands.
  • If you have a severe break that needs to be placed in a cast, it can take four to six weeks to heal. Be prepared to miss some work if your job requires you to use your hands.
  • Sometimes broken knuckles do require surgery. If surgery is required the knuckle may take even longer to heal.

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Date: 17.12.2018, 15:37 / Views: 65165